Thursday, May 03, 2007
The Complete Savage
Well, it's done. I got home last night from Dr. No's with the last four issues of Savage Sword of Conan. I own them all. 235 issues. If you look to the left, you can see the covers for the first and last issues. It's interesting to note that the final issue, number 235, is the only issue in the series that didn't sport a painting on the cover. I guess since the book was being canceled, the editors at Marvel didn't see much point in going to the time or expense to have a painting done. Also note that the painting for issue number one was done by Boris Vallejo, now a famous fantasy artist, but just breaking in to the industry back then.
The first issue of SSoC hit the stands in 1974. It was preceded by another magazine called Savage Tales. Conan appeared in the pages of Savage Tales for the first five issues before spinning off into SSoC. Savage Tales ran for six more issues without him, and before you ask, yes, I own all of those as well.
The original idea of Savage Sword was to get around the Comics Code Authority, which had hamstrung the comics industry since the 1950s. The code was supposed to keep anything out of comics that might warp the brains of impressionable children. SSoC was an oversized black and white magazine, not answerable to the code, and that allowed Marvel Comics to tell stories with more blood, gore, and partial nudity, just like the actual Conan books. The four color Conan the Barbarian comic was subject to the code, but SSoC wasn't.
I actually bought the first issue of SSoC off the magazine rack at Blair's Food Town, the only supermarket in the small, rural Georgia town where I grew up. I had been reading the color comic for about a year and had found two of the Conan issues of Savage Tales. (Distribution was very spotty in those days. Hard to get consecutive issues of anything.) In 1974 I was twelve, which was the perfect age for SSoC. I liked the violence, and of course the higher degree of female nudity was a big draw to a twelve year old boy. There was something a little dangerous about reading SSoC. I knew my mom wouldn't approve of the magazine. I never hid them like some kids would have, but I put then in the bottom of my stacks of comics. I remember reading one issue while in the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church, just waiting for God to strike me down. Can't recall what I was doing there. Probably waiting to be picked up from some Sunday school function.
I managed to buy most of the first 60 issues over the next few years. To my mind these remain the best of the lot. That was when Roy Thomas was adapting the original Robert E. Howard short stories and when artist John Buscema was the most enthused about drawing Conan. He was really putting his all into those stories, filling them with amazing images of savage battles, beautiful women, lost cities, demons, monsters, and all manner of fantastic things. Roy Thomas was working hard too, bringing as much of Howard's dark imagination to the page as he could. Heady days.
Roy left the book around issue 60, and as I've chronicled in earlier posts, so did I. That had mostly to do with my losing interest in fantasy fiction and turning mostly to crime fiction. (Which now that I think of it, seems to be happening again.) That would have been 1980 or so. Savage Sword would go on for another fifteen years with varying degrees of quality. I bought occasional issues when I would come across them, usually when a favorite artist would draw an issue or two, but for the most part the comic was below my radar. I don't recall even knowing it had been canceled in 1995 until well after the fact.
When I moved a couple of years ago, I got rid of most of my comic books. I kept the first 60 issues of SSoC, and got rid of the other fifty or so issues I had. Unfortunately my interest in old time sword & sorcery swung back to the front of my mind and I suddenly wished I had those issues back. I also learned that Roy Thomas had returned to SSoC with issue 190 and had written the last 45 issues. I decided I wanted to read those. Making a couple of lucky EBay bids, I found myself with about two thirds of the series and decided, what the heck, I might as well get them all. And now I have. I've been reading them as they've come in and having a grand old time. There are some really good stories and some really bad. Amazingly good art and sub professional art. SSoC ran the gamut over the years.
Anyway, let me say a particular thank you to my friend Cliff Biggers, who went way out of his way to help me get all the issues. Thanks, man. I couldn't have done it without you. Also thanks to Brett, Jared, Buck, and Whitney, for watching for all the packages I had shipped to Dr. No's and for alerting me when they arrived.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have more Conan to read.